The American League Central Division is filled with very good starting pitchers.
Starting pitchers can obviously determine where a team goes in the postseason, or if they even go at all.
The Minnesota Twins are looking to three-peat, and they bring back the exact same rotation that they sported during the 2010 season, resigning everybody necessary to make a deep run.
The same can be said about the Chicago White Sox, who were the last AL Central team to win the title when they did so back in 2006.
The Detroit Tigers signed a few key pitchers and look to be in the hunt this season.
The Cleveland Indians are full of young and inexperienced starters who more than likely have something to prove this year.
The best starter of 2010 and years past, Zack Greinke, packed his bags and headed for Milwaukee, deserting and therefore depriving the Kansas City Royals and the AL Central of its' best ace.
I will take a look at all 25 of the starters for the 2011 season, give a short analysis on each, and rank them from first all the way to 25th.
I hope you enjoy and I would love some constructive feedback!
In 2009, Sean O'Sullivan pitched a no-hitter-- for the AAA Salt Lake Bees.
Then last season he was traded to the Royals and became a spot starter.
The Royals expect the 23-year old O'Sullivan to lower his career 5.57 ERA as he takes over full-time as the fifth starter.
As a 25-year old rookie, Josh Tomlin showed some flashes of greatness for the Cleveland Indians.
He went 6-4 and posted a 4.56 ERA. The Texas Tech product needs to go deeper into games to rank higher on this list, although he did go the distance in one contest in 2010.
Vin Mazzaro joins the Kansas City Royals as their fourth starter entering their 2011 campaign.
The 6'3", 210-pound Mazzaro showed potential by going 6-8 with a decent 4.25 ERA for the Oakland Athletics.
Involved in the David DeJesus trade, Mazzaro needs to improve upon his career WHIP of 1.57 to find success in KCMO, and in lowering that clip he will find success.
He is my pick for surprise starter of the AL Central, despite being ranked 23rd out of 25th on this list.
The sky is the limit for this hard-throwing righty.
Phil Coke played the 2010 season as a key reliever in the Tigers' bullpen, holding 17 games.
The southpaw has moved on to a starting role, something he has only done once in 158 career games he has entered.
It will be interesting to see how Coke reacts to such a transition, and I can see him winning eight games if healthy this year.
Entering the 2007 season, Carlos Carrasco was named as the 41st best prospect in all of the major leagues.
Four years later, we are unable to validate any sort of success for the Venezuelan-born Carrasco, as he has compiled just a 2-6 record with a 5.51 ERA as a starting pitcher.
He enters 2011 with something to prove as the Indians' fourth starter.
Jeff Francis currently holds the fourth slot in the Royals' rotation, and the only reason he is third among their starters on this list has to do with experience.
He has seven years in the bigs, something no other Kansas City starter can say. He is also the oldest of the bunch, at the "elderly" age of 29.
He has to lower his ERA from last year (five on the dot) in order to have successful transition from Colorado to the AL Central.
Nick Blackburn currently holds the fifth spot in the Twins' rotation, but there is no certain way to maintain that place in the lineup.
After another mediocre season where Blackburn went 10-12 with a 1.46 WHIP, it might be time to hand the reigns over to youngster Brian Duensing.
To be truthful, a .302 career batting average against isn't going to keep that spot. Likewise, neither is giving up a home run nearly every seven innings you pitch.
Why is Jake Peavy so low on this list?
More so than performance, uncertainty takes a role.
Peavy had a great career in San Diego, going to three All-Star Games, winning the Cy Young in 2007, a year he seemingly worked over the entire National League.
But it isn't 2007 anymore.
Four seasons and just 26 victories later, Peavy isn't necessarily expected to do great things in his first full season donning the black and white uniform.
Mitch Talbot posted 10 wins and a 4.41 ERA during the 2010 season, and became the third starter in the Indians' rotation.
It was his first full season as a starter, and Talbot gave the team a reason to hope he can perform well throughout the 2011 season.
The Cedar City, Utah native has to produce quickly if he wants to be a mainstay in Cleveland's long term plans.
Justin Masterson has gone 7-20 in the last 18 months.
The Kingston, Jamaica native needs that being a fireballer also means that you need to limit walks. In 180 innings pitched, 73 batters found a free pass to first base.
Masterson needs to find a way or two to start winning soon, otherwise Cleveland might quickly take over last place in the AL Central.
Kyle Davies has to lower his .354 on-base percentage allowed from last year. He just has to.
In order to become a real number two starter in a rotation, the 27-year old Georgia native needs to fix his game completely. 80 walks in 183 innings is just unacceptable.
On the bright side though, he only posted 12 defeats last year.
Scott Baker is what I as a baseball fan would call an odd pitcher.
Going into the 2009 season, Baker was hands down the ace of the Twins. However, even after a good season, where he posted a 15-9 record, Baker was thrown into the third slot last year.
Despite another decent year, where a dozen victories and 148 strikeouts were in order, Baker slipped down another spot in the rotation, this time being passed up by Kevin Slowey.
He is coming off arthroscopic right elbow surgery in October, and if he is good to go he should be the third or fourth guy on manager Ron Gardenhire's list.
Easily the AL Central (and maybe the MLB's) weakest ace, Luke Hochevar comes into 2010 with a lot to prove to the fans (if there are any left) of Kansas City.
At the blink of an eye in early January, Zack Greinke left town and Hochevar was the de facto Opening Day starter.
Hochevar posted a 6-6 record last season before heading to the DL in June.
He must lower his opponents' batting average on the road from the mediocre .301 he posted last season. He also must lower his career 5.60 ERA in order to for the Royals to have any chance of winning anything in 2011.
While the 6'4" Brad Penny isn't dating attractive women, he is throwing nasty stuff down Broadway.
The oft-injured Penny has a World Series ring, 108 career victories, and two All-Star selections to his name. This offseason he signed a one-year, three million dollar contract with the Tigers, and he will be expected to bring his excellent control to pitch among the AL Central's best.
If Penny is healthy all season long 12 wins is not out of the question.
Edwin Jackson and his talents have bounced all over the place, wearing five different uniforms in eight seasons.
The German-born Jackson made a household name for himself last June when he no-hit his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He allowed nine baserunners in the game, an unusually high count for a no-no, as well as throwing 149 pitches, also unusual.
He went 10-12 and fanned 181 batters last season, but I expect these numbers to jump in his first full season in a White Sox uniform. One thing he must do better is limiting his walks, as 78 batters took first base after watching four balls go by.
Jackson has All-Star talent, and Chicago will be happy to see him win more than a dozen games this year if he is healthy.
At the youthful age of 20, Rick Porcello was a rookie sensation. He and his nasty sinker sported a 14-9 record, a 1.34 WHIP, and a 3.96 ERA.
Surely, only good things would follow in 2010, right?
Porcello took a step backward with a 10-12 record and a noticable rise in WHIP (1.49) and ERA (4.92) in four fewer starts.
If we see the Rick Porcello we witnessed in 2009, expect a top five position next season for the 22-year old from Jersey.
Like teammate Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey is also an odd case.
He had a pedestrian 4.45 ERA in 2010, yet had an incredible 13-6 record, seventh best in the AL in terms of winning percentage.
2009 was no different, as Slowey had a mediocre-to-poor 4.86 ERA, but an astounding 10-3 record in just 16 starts.
Maybe the Twins decide to hit their best only when Slowey pitches.
Whatever it is, his solid winning percentage and the fact that he gave up less than one walk per start (29 walks, 30 starts) last season lands him a position in the lower tier of the top 10.
Gavin Floyd has been one of the winningest pitchers over the last three seasons, totalling 38 to go with 32 losses.
Floyd, a 6'6" tower from Annapolis, has learned to overcome his biggest weakness, which previously was giving up a lot of home runs. Over the past two years he has cut the 30 number he gave up in '08 to a nifty 14 this past season.
He is under contract for the next three years, and you can bet he will be a mainstay among the AL Central's best starters.
Fausto Carmona has had one of the strangest career paths I have ever seen in baseball.
The epitome of inconsistent, Carmona has posted records of 1-10, 19-8, 8-7, 5-12, and 13-14 throughout his career.
The 18-win improvement from 2006 to the following year is one of the best single season turnarounds ever. He had 10 losses in just 74 innings in '06, then posted just eight (with 19 wins) in over 210 innings of work the next season.
Last season he went 13-14, got elected to the All-Star Game, and posted a 3.77 ERA. I expect similar things this season, and Carmona will remain the ace on this weak pitching staff.
John Danks has 46 career victories, an impressive statistic especially when you note that he will turn just 26 during the third week of the season.
Danks went 15-11 in 2010, putting him in a tie for 10th among AL pitchers in wins.
A strikeout master, Danks also was ninth in the AL in innings pitched, with 213 on the dot.
I could see him potentially being an All-Star come July, and he may not be the only one from the White Sox rotation.
Max Scherzer had himself a solid 2010 season, going 12-11, disappointing considering his ERA was a stellar 3.50.
Scherzer's main strength has to do with the fact that he makes batters whiff left and right, and he was 11th in the AL with 184 K's.
An interesting fact had to do with Scherzer doing better on the road, allowing just a .238 batting average, while posting a batting averaging that was 13 higher when he played in Detroit.
A former Mizzou Tiger, Scherzer needs to limit his walks allowed, as he let 70 men get to first base on balls last year.
When it was announced last week that Carl Pavano and his mustache were taking their talents back to Target Field, Twins nation went into a frenzy and were once again favorites in the division.
The 35-year old signed a two-year contract with the Twins.
Pavano went 17-11 in 2010, and led the American League in shutouts and complete games, with two and seven respectively.
The reason he is fourth on this list has to with his durability. He was also sixth in the AL in innings pitched with 221.
Hopefully that facial hair of his will help him rock Target Field for at least the next two seasons.
Francisco Liriano finally returned to his 2006 self with a solid campaign last year.
After going 5-13 in 2009, Liriano and his fireball went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA, and finished fifth in the AL in strikeouts, fanning 201 batters in the process. He also was the winner of April 2010's Pitcher of the Month.
One thing the hard-throwing southpaw needs to work on is his durability. I know he underwent Tommy John three years ago, but he still needs to control himself throughout a full game. He has yet to finish a complete game. He is, in essence, the opposite of fellow starter Carl Pavano.
His next chance will be on Opening Day, April Fools' Day, at Toronto.
Tune in, Twins fans.
At 31 years old, Mark Buehrle is doing his best Cooperstown impression.
He has posted a 148-110 career record, thrown a no-hitter and a perfect game, won two Gold Gloves, had four All-Star selections, and most importantly a World Series ring.
He also is the second best pitcher in the AL Central. Even in an off year where he went 13-13, I expect Buehrle to come back and have a great season, as he has done so many times.
As a Twins fan, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the 11-year veteran, even if he does play for the team that I wish to be winless.
With the departure of Zack Greinke, Tigers ace Justin Verlander unanimously takes the number one spot on this list.
A 6'5", 225-pound fireballer, Verlander went 18-9 in 2010 to go with 219 strikeouts and a 3.37 ERA. Those are some all-around solid numbers, and he was tied for fourth in the AL in wins.
Verlander will be expected to propel the Tigers' rotation this season in hopes of catching the White Sox and the Twins.
Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buehrle were clearly happy about something when this picture was taken.
Maybe it was because they realize that they had won first place on this list!
Judging by the least amount of points (1 through 25, 5 being the best possible and 125 being the worst possible) the rankings come in as follows:
1. Chicago White Sox, 45 points
2. Minnesota Twins, 49 points
3. Detroit Tigers, 50 points
4. Cleveland Indians, 85 points
5. Kansas City Royals, 96 points
I hope you enjoyed this slide show and I would love some constructive feedback!